Yes, we did! The American Soccer League played on the FIFA calendar, beginning the competitive year in September and concluding the season in May.
Using the well-researched, exquisitely detailed and documented Bethlehem Steel website, one can track the seasons of that perennial champion. The typical game schedule over the years included Christmas Day and New Year’s Day matches.
As one might imagine, not every scheduled game was played. For example the January 1, 1927 match was canceled “…because of the bad condition of the field. Every effort was made to put the ice-covered field in shape for the game. Steel harrows, scrapers and even picks and shovels were tried to make the ground fit for the contest, but the local management was compelled to call the game off. Sheets of ice and water have rendered the field unfit and dangerous.”
An overview of the years the team operated, from 1909 to 1930, shows there were, on average, one or two games postponed each year.
So, could Major League Soccer adopt the FIFA calendar, as Sepp Blatter has suggested?
The history indicates that it is possible. If the teams of the American Soccer League could play through the winter months in the Northeast, it seems entirely reasonable to think today’s teams could do the same.
Today’s pitches are constructed with subsurface heating systems, sophisticated coverings, and well-trained grounds crews, so the fields, the primary reason for cancelled matches in the teens and 20s, could be maintained well and field cancellations minimized.
The big challenge for today’s clubs is: Would the fans turn out on a 20-degree day in January?
They turn out in England and Scotland for winter games as do our diehard NFL fans. For these leagues the cold weather games are a long tradition and, in fact, the matches during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday are some of the best attended.
Are soccer fans in the United States and Canada any less hardy?
Probably not, but is that the right question? Are today’s MLS fans so committed to their respective clubs that the league could maintain the record per game attendance it set in 2011? Each one of us will form our own conclusion about that question.
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